All About Tea
White, Green, Oolong and Black tea originates from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. These types of tea are produced by changing the shape and chemistry of the leaf, called 'processing' or 'manufacturing.' Herbal Infusions are beverages prepared from steeping herbs, roots and flowers which do not have their origins from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
Tea is processed in five basic steps; some teas don't utilize all of these steps, while other teas repeat them several times. Basic processing is Plucking, Withering (allowing the leaves to wilt and soften), Curling or Rolling (to shape the leaves and squeeze out the juices), Oxidizing (see below) and Firing (ie: Drying).
The most vital part, what defines the categories of tea, is Oxidizing. Oxidation occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaf interact with oxygen, after the cell walls are broken apart. This can happen quickly, through Curling, Tearing or Crushing, or more slowly through the natural decomposition of the leaf. This is from where the acronym CTC (Crush Tear Curl) originates. CTC Tea is the most consumed tea in the world. The same process can be seen in a piece of fruit. Left to sit, an apple will slowly turn brown. Cut or bruise the apple, and it will brown much more quickly.
The five basic types of tea are White, Green, Oolong, Black and Herbal Infusions.
White Tea is unprocessed tea. The name is derived from the white hair which appears on the unopened or recently opened buds - the newest growth on the tea bush. White tea is plucked by skilled workers and allowed to wither dry under the sun. If the weather isn't ideal, the leaves may be put into a gentle tumble dryer on very, very low heat to assist the process. But the leaves are not rolled, shaped, etc. Some amount of minimal oxidation does happen naturally, as it can take a full day or two to air-dry the tea leaves. This is why some white teas, like the classic White Peony, show leaves of differing colors (white, green and brown). White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most light and delicate in flavor and aroma.
Green Tea is plucked, withered and rolled. It is not oxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. For green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf and alter their freshly picked flavor. The tea is then sifted and graded. Tea particles are separated according to shape and size by being passed through a series of progressively finer meshes. The main grades are Leaf and Broken grades with the former consisting of larger and longer particles, yielding a light liquor, whilst the smaller particles produce darker and stronger liquors. The liquor of a green tea is typically a green or yellow color, and flavors range from toasty, grassy (pan fired teas) to fresh steamed greens (steamed teas) with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
Oolong Tea is the most time consuming teas to prepare. After the leaves are picked (usually whole shoots), they are gently withered to remove some of the moisture from the leaf, before being tumbled in a bamboo drum. This process bruises the leaves and provokes oxidation. Oolongs are semi-oxidized which means that unlike black teas which are allowed to oxidize fully, for oolongs the process is halted after a certain time. The period of oxidation varies depending on the type of oolong being produced and can vary from 10% oxidation for a ‘green’ oolong, to over 60% for a darker Oolong. The leaves are then pan fired at high temperatures before being rolled and dried.
What sets this tea apart is a traditional four-step transformation that includes withering, rolling, oxidation and firing. Put simply, black tea is a more oxidized version of white, green or oolong teas and tends to have a stronger flavor than other tea types.
There are many varieties of black tea and they are typically named after the region in which they are produced. These tend to have flavor characteristics that are unique to the area they are grown, similar to wine-growing regions. The most popular black teas include full-bodied and malty Assam tea, floral and fruity Darjeeling tea, and Sri Lankan Ceylon tea, which can all have a range of flavors, aromas, and strengths depending on the estate in which they were harvested.
Black tea is often blended with other teas, fruits, flowers, oils, or spices to produce a distinct taste and aroma. Popular black tea blends include English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Masala Chai.